Friday, April 8, 2011

Back from the Brink?

So no government shutdown this month? Happy happy, joy joy?

It's being reported that $38.5 billion [meaning $78.5 for the total 2011 fiscal year] in spending cuts were agreed upon.

And while 800,000 federal employees across the country, the men and women of the U.S. military and their families are undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief tonight, we don't know precisely where those billions in cuts will hit. But we do know what
Republicans have targeted–programs like Head Start, WIC, and community health care centers ... an anti-woman, anti-child, anti-poor agenda, that, oh by the way, will cause a loss of 120,000 - 450,000 jobs.

But huzzah! A bipartisan agreement has been reached. Somewhere David Broder is smiling approvingly. The people who will suffer the effects of what are sure to be draconian cuts to social safety nets? They can pound sand.

And what actually happens?

It includes cuts to both mandatory and discretionary spending, and does not include a rider that would have defunded Planned Parenthood -- the final sticking point in the negotiations. A separate measure to prevent the city of Washington from paying for abortions with its tax revenues survived. Republicans have also been promised up-or-down floor votes in the Senate on riders to defund Planned Parenthood and health care implementation.

It's a mixed bag for both sides politically. Democrats, led by Reid and President Obama, have had to accept cuts to social programs they value ideologically, and that are important to their base. Indeed, the sum of the cuts is higher than Republicans initially thought feasible. But Boehner was walking a tightrope with conservative rank and filers skeptical of any compromise -- a rift Democrats stretched to maximum benefit -- despite walking away with more fiscal flesh than anybody would have predicted six months ago.

That the government will stay open should come as little solace to Boehner -- who to his credit knew the political fallout would harm Republicans. This was a little fight. Puny even. It was the easiest test he'll face all year, and he barely passed. In just a few weeks, he'll have to convince the same petulant bloc in his party to support raising the debt limit, or force the country into default. When that's done, he'll have to run point on yet another spending fight -- to keep the government running next year. In both looming battles, Boehner will demand more spending cuts. But the remaining accounts are much larger, and they pay for programs that have defined Democrats for multiple generations of liberals -- popular entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The former two in particular are issues where there's no common ground between the two parties. And yet they're where all the money is.

So where do we go from here? Honestly, the choices aren't all that great.

Because Republicans run The House, and because so many Republicans have become corrupted by insani-TEA, it's not easy to negotiate in good faith. President Obama and Senator Reid are the adults in the room, but House Speaker John Boehner won't be mature about negotiating because he wants to please a bunch of unstable, deranged idiots who got elected last fall thanks to astroturf Tea Party, Inc., operations.

And even though Democrats still nominally control The Senate, nothing can really be done without at least 60 votes, so it's always easy for someone to act like a primadonna and essentially put Congress to a grinding halt. And with teabaggers there threatening to shut down the entire government over petty ideological fits, it's even more difficult to pass legislation there. It may not seem like much, but it's a huge relief to be able to placate them with separate votes on jeopardizing women's health and shoving more pollution down our throats... That will thankfully be votes assured to fail.

So what happens next? Unfortunately, millions of Americans will still suffer in some way because there are many hurtful cuts in this budget, cuts that will leave working families without help they need to survive this still rough economy. However, it could have been far worse. And moving forward, people who are angry about this budget ultimately need to realize that the only real solution lies at the ballot box. Don't like this? Well, remember to vote next year so we have a more functional Congress full of people who really want to represent us and legislate smartly!

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